Tips On How To Start Your Family History Journey

August 13, 2020
Written by: Rachel Dunkley

When starting family history research, it is always best to start by writing down what you know about your relatives, such as birth and marriage dates. You can then move on to asking your close relatives what they recall about the family, which can reveal relatives previously unknown to you.

One way of doing this is to interview close relatives, and to ask if they would mind the interview being recorded so that it may be kept for posterity.

But please do this as soon as possible. One of my regrets is that I did not ask my grandparents about their recollections of family members, and now it is too late as they are deceased.

Another way of discovering more about your ancestors is to see if any relative has a family bible. It could be that this bible contains information about the family, such as birth and marriage dates of the bible’s owner and their family.

It is important to remember however that dates of events written in family bibles could be altered. So you would need to investigate these further.

You may also find there are skeletons in the cupboard and you should be prepared for this. For instance, one bible in my possession showed that a person married in 1892, having a child the following year. But in reality, research showed they had actually married a year later, when she was already pregnant.

After you have compiled some basic information, it is best to have some sort of aim regarding where you want to go from there. For example:

– Do you want to research your father’s line or your mother’s?

– How far back do you want to go?

– Do you want to concentrate on your direct ancestors, or branch out and research more lines?

The decision is entirely up to you, but it is worth bearing in mind that cousins may have information compiled from their own research that they would be willing to share with you.

If you find one ancestor has a seemingly unusual surname, you may decide to research that line first. Sometimes however a surname can be unusual in one area of the country, but common in another area.

There are many resources that can help you with your research, such as birth, death and marriage certificates, census returns, wills, military records, criminal records, newspapers, trade directories and obituaries. These can be found online or at archives and libraries.

These sources can help you to build a picture of your ancestor’s life, which could include their occupations.

Whatever sources you use, it is very important that you document them – this makes it easier for you to refer to the information again, or if you wish to pass on the information to another family member.

It can be very satisfying when you first see your ancestor in a record. Who knows what you will discover!

I wish you the best of luck with your own journey. I only know that I have thoroughly enjoyed my research over the years, as it has become a great passion and a source of much pleasure.

Rachel Dunkley has 20 years of genealogy experience, her aim being to teach others how to become involved in this wonderful pastime. You can learn more about Rachel’s passion for genealogy at Family Tree Resources.